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Del Amo Estate Company. OAC

 
 

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Biographical History

The Del Amo Estate Company was established 1926 by Susana Delfina Dominguez and her husband, Dr. Gregorio del Amo. As an heir of Manuel Dominguez, Susana inherited property in the Rancho San Pedro, one of the original Spanish land grants, located in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County. While Gregorio helped oversee the property personally for some years, the Del Amo Estate Company was formed as a way to provide management of the land while also giving Gregorio and Susana del Amo the means and time to pursue their philanthropic interests.

In the early years of personally overseeing the inheritance, Gregorio del Amo focused on leasing small parcels of land to individual farmers. While agricultural leasing would continue for many years, del Amo introduced commercial and industrial land use in the 1920s. In 1921, Dr. del Amo founded the San Pedro Ranch Nursery, which soon began to serve an international clientele. With the discovery of oil on del Amo land, however, petroleum production immediately became central to the Gregorio and Susana del Amo fortune. They signed the first oil lease in 1920, with the Chanslor-Canfield Midway Oil Company, and Chanslor-Canfield started producing oil in 1922. In the years leading up to incorporation, the del Amos signed additional leases with Texas Oil, Marland Oil, United Oil, and other companies. While the del Amos overall followed the Dominguez family practice of leasing land rather than selling it outright, on October 5, 1926 they broke tradition by selling 332 acres to the Shell Oil Company, who wanted to build an oil refinery in the area.

By the time of the refinery sale, the del Amos had already made the decision to incorporate their interests, now totaling $7,000,000 in cash, land holdings, stocks, and other assets. The articles of incorporation for the Del Amo Estate Company were drawn up by prominent Los Angeles attorney Henry O’Melveny, and they were approved by the state of California on October 22, 1926. The del Amos received permission to sell stock in the company on November 13, 1926, and the Del Amo Estate Company opened its offices at 706 Union Bank Building in downtown Los Angeles. To help him run the company, Dr. del Amo turned to two men he had brought to California from his native Spain: the doctor’s nephew, Francisco de la Riva, was made Vice-President, and Eugenio Cabrero was appointed Secretary and Treasurer.

From its inception, the Del Amo Estate Company had several purposes. In addition to managing the operations associated with the Rancho San Pedro properties, the company existed to support the cultural and philanthropic interests of both Susana and Gregorio del Amo. Susana Dominguez del Amo was a devoted patron of the Catholic Church, and she used some of her wealth to build the Dominguez Memorial Seminary in 1927. This Seminary, built near the Dominguez family adobe, provided classroom and dormitory space for those in the Claretian order, with whom the Dominguez family had a long relationship. When Susana died in 1931, Dr. del Amo maintained the Seminary, including funding repairs when it suffered extensive damage in the Long Beach Earthquake of 1933.

In addition to his wife’s work on behalf of the Church, Dr. del Amo pursued his own wide-ranging interests. The San Pedro Ranch Nursery reflected his strong love of horticulture, and throughout the 1920s, he hoped it would eventually provide an occupation for his eldest adopted son, Carlos; that was not to be, however, as Carlos died in 1931. In 1937, the nursery, now renamed as the Del Amo Nurseries, was merged into the estate company’s operations. Dr. del Amo's largest undertaking was a plan he hoped would foster greater cultural understanding between the two lands he considered home – California and Spain. The Shell Oil refinery helped fund del Amo’s endowment of the Del Amo Educational Trust, an educational exchange program between Spain and Southern California, and del Amo established the Del Amo Foundation to administer the grants, scholarships, fellowships given by the Foundation.

As President, Dr. del Amo was involved in major decisions and undertakings of the Del Amo Estate Company; however, from the earliest days of incorporation, he left day-to-day operations largely in the hands of others, including de la Riva, with a series of Executive Vice-Presidents and Directors, and primarily with Eugenio Cabrero, who would remain as Secretary through the company’s entire lifespan.

Freed from most of the everyday concerns of running the company that bore his name, Dr. del Amo spent much of the remaining decade of his life traveling abroad and also creating a hub for the Spanish population in Los Angeles. He entertained frequently, and maintained ties with Spanish diplomats, politicians, entertainers, and other members of Spanish culture. The del Amo estate at 1119 Westchester Place in Los Angeles became a favorite site for local society as well, and Dr. del Amo often lent use of the house or its gardens to social clubs and organizations for teas and receptions. During World War II, the estate was lent to the Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross for use as a production center.

Throughout the 1930s, the Del Amo Estate Company largely retained the character and size that Gregorio del Amo had given it. With his death in 1941, however, the company began a period of diversification and growth that would change the shape of the company forever. Jaime del Amo, Dr. del Amo’s youngest adopted son, became President of the company, but he lived most of the time abroad, leaving it largely to the Board of Directors and other executives to shape the company’s future. Oil Operations became a discrete department within the company, and assumed even more importance throughout the 1940s and 1950s. While the company continued to lease out property for small enterprises such as farming or the sale of dirt and sand, the Directors began to envision even greater industrial and commercial development as the key to the company’s growth.

The post-war land boom and the growth of Los Angeles’s freeway system combined to make South Bay cities such as Compton, Torrance, Redondo Beach, and Lynwood accessible and increasingly desirable for residents and businesses. The large tracts of land owned by the Del Amo Estate Company became prime property for development. By the mid- to late-1950s, the Del Amo Estate Company signed leases with developers such as Kaufman & Wilson to build large residential developments, and with companies such as Western Corrugated, Coleman Engineering, and the Hawthorne Medical Building to build large facilities on Del Amo property.

The capstone of the move to commercial development began with the signing of a tri-party agreement among the Del Amo Estate Company, Sears Roebuck, and Broadway-Hale on March 11, 1957. In this agreement, brokered by Coldwell, Banker, the Del Amo Estate Company agreed to sell parcels of land to Sears and Broadway in a common area, and those two companies would build their own stores. The Del Amo Estate Company would share in landscaping, parking, and easement costs. With those two major stores as flagships, the Estate Company would lease adjoining parcels of land to other retail tenants, thus creating a block of stores that would become the Del Amo Shopping Center.

The Del Amo Estate Company engaged noted Los Angeles architectural firm of Welton Becket & Associates to design the center, and the official groundbreaking ceremonies took place in December 1957 on Torrance land bounded by Hawthorne Boulevard, Carson Street, Sepulveda Boulevard, and Madrona Avenue. The Sears building opened for business on September 30, 1959, followed by the Broadway and well-known retailers such as Oltmans, J. C. Penney, Thrifty Drug Store, Woolworth’s, and dozens of others. Within a few years the Del Amo Shopping Center was the largest shopping mall in the world.

In 1961, Jaime del Amo resigned from the Board of Directors to live full-time in Geneva. The remaining and new members of the Board, particularly Jaime’s immediate replacement, Thomas Ford, believed that the trend toward commercial and industrial development in the area would only continue, but that the rising value of the land would place huge tax burdens on the company and drain their reserves of cash. Instead, Ford and the other Directors saw the value of selling off all Del Amo Estate Company lands and liquidating the company. In August, 1963 the Board voted to begin the process of liquidation. According to the Internal Revenue laws of that time, if a company could complete liquidation of all assets within one year of initiating the process, assets could pass directly to the stockholders without tax penalty. The Del Amo Shopping Center was sold to the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company, and by August, 1964, when the company closed its longtime office in the Union Bank Building, the assets of the company had been completely liquidated, with the company realizing a profit of approximately $46,000,000.

From the finding aid for Del Amo Estate Company Collection, 1908-1978 1926-1964 (California State University, Dominguez Hills Archives and Special Collections)

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